The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe. In Studies in American Popular History and Culture , ed . Jerome Nadelhaft . New York : Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group , 2008 . vii , 134 pp . $125.00 cloth .
This review involves a recent but relatively unnoticed contribution to the scholarship on Poe's writing relative to the nineteenth-century literary marketplace: Jonathan Hartmann's 2008 The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe. The ongoing evolution of such scholarship can be seen in Les Harrison's proposed panel titled “Remixing the American Renaissance” for the 2012 conference of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, a panel focused on “works written during the middle decades of the nineteenth century … at the dawn of the first information revolution in the United States—not just print, but cheap, abundant print, as well as the rise of visual and mass culture.” Harrison, who studies Poe and information technologies, is concerned with works that “made conscious use of the strategies which would come to be defined as remix culture (sampling, reappropriation, mixing of genres, repackaging).” Their “natural state” is one of “adaptation, fluid textuality, reprinting, reappropriation, distortion,” a viewpoint attributed to such scholars as John Bryant in The Fluid Text (2002) and, most significantly for this review, Meredith McGill in American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834–1853 [Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2003; see Harrison, posted e-mail to H-Amstdy, 22 August 2011, http://www.h-net.org/~amstdy/].
McGill's convincing revisionist view of the literary marketplace in Poe's era as a “culture of reprinting” forms a key foundation for Hartmann's The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe, which tries to tease out how Poe as a professional author strategically shaped his writing for “a culture marked by widespread reprinting of periodical and book-length texts”. Indeed, one might find the seeds for Hartmann's approach in the focuses that McGill outlines for her fourth chapter, “Unauthorized Poe”[cf. 149–51]. While Hartmann does not directly address the “fluidity” of Poe's oft-reprinted texts as does McGill, Harrison's proposed panel on “remixture” could extend its concerns to the online marketing of such monographs as Hartmann’s, which is itself a kind of adaptation and recirculation of the marketplace scholarship that informs it. Indeed, Google searches for The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe will generate a ten-page “preview” in Google books as well as repeated “remixed” descriptions of the monograph as they circulate on the commercial Web sites that offer it for sale.
Typical of these descriptions is the following (I quote from Barnes and Noble's online site): “The circulation and marketing of Edgar Allan Poe's prose are explored in this book through close readings of Poe's fictive, journalistic, and critical writings, and an examination of his involvement in the transatlantic literary marketplace and his development of a literary brand” [http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (accessed 15 July 2011)]. The emphasis on circulation and “the transatlantic literary marketplace” obviously signals that this is a post-McGill study to readers of Poe criticism. And distasteful as the jargon in “development of a literary brand” might be to those readers, Poe occasionally did think in such terms. Thus in “Letter to B——” (1831, 1836), a young Poe considers the “great barrier in the path of an American writer” to be authors with well-known names and reputations in the literary marketplace: “for it is with literature as with law or empire—an established name is an estate in tenure”[ER, 5–6; in chap. 3, Hartmann notices this image (37) and analyzes the overall rhetoric of “Letter to B——” (38–52)].
Hartmann's monograph began as his 2005 dissertation, “‘Neither in nor out of Blackwood’s’: The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe's Prose Address”[Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 2005; abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International, abstract no. DA3159216]. Defining his areas of interest as antebellum American literature and popular culture, Hartmann takes what can be broadly characterized as a rhetorically oriented, reader-response approach to formulating Poe's relationship to the marketplace and popular culture, perhaps understandable when writing a dissertation under David Richter and David Reynolds. A preview of its first twenty or so pages (available online through ProQuest) suggests that Hartmann did not have the luxury of expanding or revising the dissertation in major ways before its publication in early 2008 as The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe for the Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group's Studies in American Popular History and Culture. As I will argue, while it would have benefited from a longer process of maturation before seeing print, the monograph takes an approach that merits fuller exploration.
Chapter 1 (“The Problem of Poe's Appeal: Intellectual and Market Background”) begins by briefly outlining Poe's dissenting positions on romantic concepts of authorship and inspiration [2–4] and then, more fully, the “economic conditions [of] Poe's prose career”[1; 4–10]. The latter section synthesizes much of the relevant marketplace scholarship ranging from Frank Luther Mott's 1970 A History of American Magazines, William Charvat's 1986 The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800–1870, and Ronald Zboray's 1993 A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public to Terence Whalen's 1999 Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses and, of course, McGill's 2003 Culture of Reprinting[Hartmann, 4–10]. At the outset, Hartmann explicitly aligns his study with McGill's and Whalen's analyses of “the economic motivation of Poe's writing” while specifying that The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe“pursues a tangent from Whalen and McGill by reading [Poe’s] well-known and … less canonical essays and tales with an eye to literary publicity”[1, 2]. In this “tangent,” Hartmann concentrates on Poe as a professional magazinist, a self-conscious, often cynical craftsman who engages in “bold self-promotion” and invariably calculates the market potential and significance to his reputation of the articles, reviews, and tales he writes for his era's “transatlantic literary marketplace”—alternately, the “transatlantic reprint culture” and the “transatlantic periodical marketplace”[2, 4, 6, 10].
Not surprisingly, Routledge focuses the online advertising for The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe on “literary publicity” when it describes the monograph as a “single-volume treatment of Poe's self-promotional tales and criticism.” After asserting that Hartmann's “examination of Poe's essays and criticism throughout his prose publishing career (1831–1849) reveals that the author himself played a vital role in the creation and manipulation of his own reputation,” the publisher then summarizes Hartmann's major grounds for this claim, especially the arguments that figure in chapter 2 (“Poe's Composite Autobiography”) and chapter 3 (“The Recycling of Critical Authority: Lessons from Coleridge and Hazlitt”):
During his twenties and thirties, Poe promoted his writing to magazine editors in the United States and in Europe through several strategies. He painted a Romantic and patriotic self-portrait in his fiery literary reviews, even as he played up his own connections, both real and imaginary, to literary celebrities including Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, George Gordon Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Through recycling plots, atmosphere, and language (including his own) from American and British magazines, he built stories and essays which were linked in a complex network of references to each other and their author.[http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415963541/ (accessed 15 July 2011)]
Hartmann's opening chapters develop these strategies rather sketchily; indeed, I think the analysis throughout would have benefited from a more thorough, nuanced elaboration before the monograph came into print. Nevertheless, The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe offers reasonable extensions of marketplace scholarship on the author. For example, Hartmann's second chapter sets forth the following features of Poe's writing and professional career: his “self-portrait of a patriot combating popular and critical taste for British authors and their American imitators”; his promotion of himself in “tales, criticism, and autobiographical writings” as a “discerning reader” and “analyst”; his self-projection as “an aesthete engaged in life-long mourning”; and his use of punning and hoaxing language to invite the readers to identify him as a “literary diddler or confidence man passing himself off as an American original.” To Hartmann, Poe's self-reflexive use of these various “literary personae … renders his works a how-to guide for circulating one's work and building a literary reputation”.
These points, and especially the final claim for the role of these personae in a strategy of self-promotion, are too complex to be developed adequately in a chapter of just twenty-two pages, although some are certainly worth further consideration. For example, Hartmann builds on Terence Whalen's 1995 “Poe's ‘Diddling’ and the Depression: Notes on the Source of Swindling”[Studies in American Fiction 23, no. 2 (1995): 195–201] to characterize Poe as a “journalistic-writer-as-diddler” in particular reviews, critical essays, and tales [33; 21–24]. While wishing Hartmann were more careful when extending this confidence-man metaphor, I find it does illuminate Poe's position in the “Autography” pieces , in several of “The Literati of New York” sketches , in “Exordium”[24, 28], and especially in Poe's anonymous reviews of his own writing when he pontificates about originality [24–26, 29–30]. I do have serious concerns, however, about the monograph's reluctance to test its contention that Poe had a motivated, intentional marketplace strategy when playing such confidence games.
Versions of this contention, often presented unconditionally as if needing little supporting argument, recur throughout The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe. For example, chapter 1 closes with the unqualified assertion that “Poe's goal” was “enabling broad-based transatlantic circulation of his prose”. Chapter 2 features the following statements, only the last of which is conditional: “Throughout his professional career, Poe aspired to achieve international acclaim”; “to give his tales relevance for a wide range of readers and editors, Poe employed unusually vague temporal and physical settings”[18; compare McGill's more nuanced, qualified version of this argument, 155–64]; the “storyteller for ‘[A Tale of the Ragged] Mountains’ may be read as British, rendering it more attractive for reprinting in European periodicals”; and “the ‘Diddling’ committed by Poe as magazinist would potentially have influenced people who helped further the distribution of his prose articles”.
I find chapter 3 (“The Recycling of Critical Authority: Lessons from Coleridge and Hazlitt”) rather more effective in its analysis of (1) Poe's rhetorical play with Coleridge's literary theory and Wordsworth's poetry in the early “Letter to B——”[38–52]; (2) Hazlitt as model and antecedent for Poe's later tactics as a critic [52–55]; and (3) the author's challenges to “the standard of Originality” in reviewing Hawthorne and Dickens [55–57]. In this chapter, Hartmann gives us a Poe (the “modern critic”) as much concerned with “entertaining the reader” as making an argument, a Poe who succeeds “by means of carefully calculated journalistic choices” to bridge the “spaces” between “multiple audiences” of “sensation-seeking news readers” and “well-educated elitist readers”. In many ways, the critical performances that Poe plays out before his readers in Hartmann's analysis remind one of the figure who emerges from N. Bryllion Fagin's 1949 The Histrionic Mr. Poe[Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1949; see especially “The Only Proper Stage,” 1–66], even if the marketplace motives that Hartmann suggests for Poe's behaviors seem far less developed than are Fagin's biographical contentions.
Chapter 4 (“The Debunking Work of Poe's Light Gothic Tales”) shifts from the writer's audiences and marketplace choices to his satiric commentary upon them. Thus it explicates how the “self-reflexivity” of “Poe's light gothic tales” satirize the author's “incipient … consumer culture,” the “writing life” itself, and the genres and conventions that he employs [59–60]—explications that make good use of the “alazon” figure in satire and the culturally grounded work of such critics as David Leverenz in “Spanking the Master: Mind-Body Crossings in Poe's Sensationalism”[in A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), 95–128; see Hartmann, 62–65]. But in spite of its limitation to the thematic content of the “light gothic tales,” the chapter opens with the largely untested assertion that these works’“close involvement with popular culture and journalism itself … would probably encourage their reprinting in periodicals spanning the Atlantic Ocean”[59–60].
Reasoning from the assumed existence and transparency of Poe's marketing strategies returns strongly in Hartmann's final chapter (“The Importance of Ambiguity: Unreliable Narration and the Marketing of Sensation”), which attributes the writer's treatment of narrative voice to the intention of marketing to a “wide range of audiences” . Thus Poe ostensibly engineers audience appeal and reader “involvement” by making possible three alternate glosses of “Ligeia”[83–90], by creating multiple interpretive possibilities in “William Wilson”[90–94]—and in “The Fall of the House of Usher” that Hartmann believes “William Wilson” references [92, 93]—and by promoting “the sales of The Raven and Other Poems” and “inducing readers to undergo the emotional experience of ‘The Raven’ yet again” in “The Philosophy of Composition”. The brief afterword recapitulates the point of chapter 5: “Poe's deployment of unreliable prose narration in his tales and criticism is closely related to his journalistic goals,” one of which is “to promote the transatlantic circulation of his prose articles”. And in his last sentence, Hartmann concludes by repeating yet again that Poe wrote with a conscious (and effective) marketplace strategy: “Poe succeeded in writing both criticism that would garner attention from American editors and tales worthy of transatlantic circulation”.
In my view, The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe would have been stronger had Hartmann thoroughly questioned, considered alternatives to, and tested his contention that Poe intentionally designed his prose for wide circulation in what McGill calls a “culture of reprinting.” Even when Hartmann explicates the function of specific occurrences of reprinting, he selects those involving Poe's direct control—in particular his reprinting of “The Letter to B——” in the Southern Literary Messenger[41–47] and his quotations from “The Raven” when accounting for its construction in “The Philosophy of Composition”[97–100]. To concentrate on deliberate reprintings tends to neglect such issues as anonymity, ambiguous authorship, shifting intentionality, and unstable relationship of text to context, which McGill finds characteristic, for example, of the various reprintings (and transformations) of Poe's “Lenore”[141–45].
From my perspective, when Hartmann contends that Poe was shaping his prose by calculating in advance the probable effects on reception and future reprinting, he needs to consider alternative explanations for the textual features at issue. For instance, one finds little analysis here of the imaginative and generic imperatives to which the writing and reading and circulating of Poe's literary texts were subject. Nor of the external events, private demons, and psychic needs, especially those outside of Poe's awareness or conscious control, that may also have shaped the author's writing for the marketplace. As Hartmann recognizes when discussing “the language of performance” in “The Philosophy of Composition”[96–97; cf. Fagin, 138–41], Poe's pose of self-conscious, rational intentionality while writing can hardly be accepted at face value.
Putting the point less absolutely, this monograph highlights the need for systematic attention to the kind of rewards Poe sought from promoting the unreimbursed reprinting of his writing, transatlantic or otherwise, in an era with virtually no copyright protection for such reprints. Hartmann seems to assume that frequent reprints in this era generated recognition and demand—and thereby improved monetary returns for an author's future publications even if subsequent reprints went unremunerated. It is, however, not clear in this study why Poe would persist in such a strategy given his failure to improve to any significant degree the rate of payment he commanded for his writing [see John Ward Ostrom, “Edgar A. Poe: His Income as a Literary Entrepreneur,”Poe Studies 15 (June 1982): 1–7], nor how that failure could be reconciled with his self-proclaimed ability to design works like “The Gold-Bug” and “The Raven”“for the express purpose of running,” that is, generating reprints [Letters (2008), 1:505, 506n]. Indeed, if Poe were master of such strategies, why did so few of his published writings match the reprint success of these two works? More generally, how might seeking the unpaid reprinting of his writing be reconciled with this author's always-desperate need for regular income? Or with his readiness to quit, be fired, or drink himself out of various editing and reviewing jobs when he desperately needed what little economic security they provided—indeed, why in Hartmann's terms would Poe give up any position that gave him direct influence over the reprinting of his work, if only by doing it himself or urging others to do so?
To be fair, Hartmann may have considered moot the analysis of monetary rewards for Poe's marketing strategies because of McGill's rejection of William Charvat's economic paradigm for early nineteenth-century literary publication. According to Charvat, an ongoing “market revolution” in the antebellum era produced an increasingly professionalized role for authors and the commodification of writing itself. McGill sees this paradigm epitomized in Michael Gilmore's 1985 American Romanticism and the Marketplace, which treats such changes in the marketplace as threats to which authors like Hawthorne and Melville and Thoreau respond with mixtures of alienation and accommodation [see McGill, 10–16]. By contrast, McGill argues that the “professionalism” that accompanied rationalized production and distribution systems came late to the publishing marketplace in America, which was organized loosely, regionally, and informed by notions of public “ownership” of literary property and without orderly payment mechanisms until midcentury or later. In addition, McGill shows how many strove to maintain this loose system by keeping the marketplace free from the discipline that international copyright, authorial control over texts, and timely payment for writers’ labor would bring [see esp. 1–44].
Evidently Hartmann took from McGill both her emphasis on transmission by reprinting and her de-emphasis on professional monetary exchanges in the antebellum literary marketplace. Poe scholarship features, however, other kinds of rewards that Hartmann might have considered as motivations for this author's efforts to promote and manage reprintings of his work: the ego-satisfaction of being read and admired; cultural or professional power and influence, especially in terms of critical authority as reviewer and editor; social capital, especially after his 1844 move to New York City; and confirmation of superiority over competitors, readers, and the system of publication itself. To follow these lines of inquiry would, of course, require a longer, more fully elaborated monograph, and obviously the additional time and support necessary to develop such a hypothetical version of The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe.
Regardless of my sense of its underdevelopment, this monograph's emphasis on Poe's concern with “self-promotion” in the reprint marketplace remains important. Hartmann again directs our attention to Poe behaviors that we find repeatedly documented in the Letters and the Poe Log, calling to mind, if not quoting, a comment by Rufus W. Griswold in his 1850 “Memoir of the Author”: “[Poe] preserved with scrupulous care everything that was published respecting himself or his works, and everything that was written to him in letters that could be used in any way for the establishment or extension of his reputation” [The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, ed. R. W. Griswold (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1850), 3:xxxiv, http://www.eapoe.org/works/editions/grvolIII.htm (accessed 20 July 2011)]. And clearly Hartmann's view of Poe's managing his reputation in the literary marketplace calls for elaboration in terms of Leon Jackson's The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America[Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2008]. In that remarkable study, Jackson offers formulations for the reward structure in antebellum literary publishing vital to any future extension of Hartmann's project. Like McGill, Jackson provides an in-depth critique of Charvat's professionalization paradigm, with a particular interest in rejecting its binary distinctions between amateur and professional writing [10–23]. More significantly, Jackson demonstrates the operation in the literary marketplace of a variety of “economies of authorship”, which provide alternate “understandings of the ‘conditions of publication’” and presuppose multiple means of payment for authors who supplied copy to periodicals and book publishers. In particular, antebellum literary exchanges involved kinds of “monies” that were not necessarily quantifiable in or reducible to monetary terms, monies that functioned in “distinct economies and exchange practices”[27–29] and could “at certain times, and under certain conditions, be exchanged for other forms of capital including the monetary”.
Jackson elegantly shows that these “embedded” economies tended to create and reinforce social relationships and ranged from barter and gift giving and exchanges of favors to reciprocal reprint arrangements by journals and newspapers that served different regions and markets; in these economies, flexible accounting of debt and earnings and trust obligations between authors and publishers could themselves be exchanged, while copy could also be gathered and paid for through literary competitions and publication prizes that offered the rewards of “emulation” and social capital and medals in addition to cash [see esp. 23–48, 186–218]. Jackson demonstrates how these various methods of reward overlapped in the antebellum era and persisted even as they were gradually replaced by national, monetarily organized publication and payment systems in the years following Poe's death [48–52ff.]. In sum, Jackson's complex findings provide a means for realizing the promise of Hartmann's project in The Marketing of Edgar Allan Poe, first by identifying the literary economies (especially the non-monetary) in which particular strategies for promoting reprinting might have functioned for Poe, second by pointing toward concrete rewards that Poe might have sought and, on occasion, gained from such strategies over the erratic course of his writing career.